There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to creep feed
What’s creep feeding and is it right for your operation?
Creep feeding simply means supplementing the calves’ diet by offering feed while the animals are still nursing. There are some pros and cons to creep feeding, and Ozarks Farm and Neighbor explored both with the help of some local experts.
Pros: Dr. Shane Gadberry, livestock nutritionists with the University of Arkansas, offered some pros for creep feeding.
The first is that creep feeding helps to supplement calves when forage quantity and or quality is low.
“Choosing a creep feed needs to be based on quality and quantity of pasture. Higher protein creep feeds may be desired when forage protein is low and desired creep intake is low (around 1 to 1.5 pounds/calf, daily). However, moderate to moderately-high protein creep feeds may be desired when forage quantity is limited or available forage is low quality and desired creep intake is moderate (around 1.5 to 3 lb./calf, daily),” he said.
Another pro for creep feeding is that this practice gives greater weaning weights. Finally, the practice of creep feeding helps transition calves through the weaning process and teaches them how to eat from a trough.
Cons: “Feed conversion can be poor, meaning the cost of gain exceeds the value of gain,” Gadberry said. “Even with good feed conversion, feed cost will sometimes exceed added value from weight gain.”
“The effectiveness of creep feeding will vary from one operation to the next but the ideal situation to creep feed is when feed costs are low and calf prices are high,” said Dana Zook, Northwest Area Livestock Specialist for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. “While simply increasing weight may mean more money at sale time, added gain may not necessarily mean more profit.”
Creep feeding can also create lower milk yield in first-calf heifers due to udder fat deposits from the supplemented feed. Another con to creep feeding, Gadberry said, is if calves get too fleshy on creep feed, you might get docked on price at the sale barn.
When it comes to creating your creep feed program, should you decide to use one.
“The most common creep feed is high in energy and about 16 percent crude protein. Typical creep feeding utilizes a creep or self-feeder where calves are allowed free-choice access to feed at all times,” Zook. “The texture of the feed should be somewhat dry, yet have minimal fines to ensure flow through the feeder. As in all free-choice feeding situations, producers should closely monitor consumption to ensure target intakes are maintained. Consumption over expected levels reduces efficiency and can easily whisk away profit.”
Body type: Also to be considered in a creep feeder program is the body type and body condition of calves and cows.
“The decision to creep feed may vary according to maturation rate of calves and type of dam,” Gadberry said. “For example, smaller frame, early maturing calves will be more prone to get fleshy on creep feeds, whereas larger frame, later maturing calf types would be less prone. Also, milk production of first-calf heifers is less than mature cows, so if first-calf heifers are managed separately from mature cows or a large portion of the herd is made up of first-calf heifers, creep feeding may be cost effective.”
He went on to say that creep feed is most beneficial from about 3 to 4 months of age until weaning at 6 to 7 months of age. During this time, milk is becoming a smaller proportion of the diet and the calf growth performance is becoming more influenced by pasture conditions and supplement.
Finally, there is a common misconception about creep feeding to also take under advisement when considering this practice:
“A common misconception is creep feeding helps the cow. In some ways it can, because creep feed intake may substitute for forage intake by calves; however, creep feeding will not substitute for calves nursing their dams,” Gadberry said.